Tuesday, May 29, 2007

MOVIE NIGHT. Saw two late Herzog documentaries at the Film Forum this weekend: Christ and Demons in New Spain and Bells from the Deep. The former is about poor Guatemalans whose Christianity is suffused with ancient paganism, though it is hard to tell whether the Christian or the Aztec Mayan part of their devotions is weirder -- like most people who got their Catholicism from Spain, they are morbidly obsessed with the agony of Christ crucified, but they also perform rituals that involve smoking huge cigars and spitting liquor on each other. The latter is about Russians whose devotions are no less strange, and include throat-singing, faith-healing, a Jesus impersonator, and pilgrimages to a miraculous city that is alleged to exist under a frozen lake.

Both films are discursive and poetic, like reality TV shows made by Luis Bunuel. In both his fiction and his non-fiction films, Herzog is obviously fascinated by primitives, though in his view primitives may be found practically anywhere (in Stroszek they are found in Wisconsin, performing the ritual of chicken tic-tac-toe). Herzog seeks not only to document their rituals and behaviors, but also to approximate the rhythms of their lives. This last feature may be what saves these films from cheap exoticism: these mini-civilizations, so detached from our world that they might as well be on different planets, are for him objects of contemplation and reverence, and he doesn't seek to project himself, or us, into them -- in fact, these places seem unlivably hellish to the likes of us. This is my kind of multiculturalism: a healthy respect, terror, and disgust for all the cultures of the world.

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